Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Whats it gonna be then, eh?

Where am I now? Well, right now, I’m in my bedroom, sitting at my desk, and shock horror, on my laptop!  But, more metaphorically, I’m in the throes of booking corrective laser eye surgery.  Or more accurately, I have booked surgery but I’m not sure I’ve done the right thing.  

There are a few simple facts and they go like this:  

My vision is pretty awful without glasses or contact lenses, which I have worn everyday since I was thirteen years old.  

I’ve wanted to get laser done for some time now.  

Its less than half the price here, in South Korea, than at home, in Ireland.  

However, unlike at home, the clinics here let you choose which kind of laser surgery to have, LASEK or LASIK.  But who the hell am I to choose?  What do I know about it?  What are the doctors for if not to advise? Because I am a suitable candidate for both, due to the health of my eyes and the thickness of my corneas, I have been told with much Korean enthusiasm, by more than one doctor, that I get to pick the procedure I want.  Lucky me!

So will it be the painfree, quick recovery of vision (24hrs to one week) but the slightly increased risk of side effects with LASIK or a substantial amount of pain, a slow recovery of vision (one week to six months) but a decreased risk of complications with LASEK.

Maybe I should just stick to my contact lenses for a while longer!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Gyeryongsan Mountain

I don't feel any fitter after our cycling trip around Jeju, but I suppose I must be, at least a little bit. Regardless or whether I am or not though, I was determined to use it as the kickstart I needed to get into a solid exercise regime, so last weekend Nick and I thought we'd cycle to Gyeryongsan, climb it, and cycle home!

It was lovely.  The cycle there was a little over 13 kilometers.  A good 6k at the start was all along the cycle track on the banks of the Gapcheon river, the river that Daejeon is built on, then there was a nasty 2-3k stretch along a fast moving dual carraigeway, followed by 4ish kilometer stretch along lovely country roads and lanes.

Gapcheon Cycle Track Section

Nasty, Fast Moving Section along the Dual Carraigeway

Nice Back Road Section

We didn't get up particularly early so when we got to the foot of the mountain it was about half twelve.  Gyeryongsan National Park, which translates as Rooster Head Mountain, is famous for two things: the cherry blossoms in spring; and a meal of makgeolli (unstrained milky-looking rice wine) and pajeon ( a cross between a crepe and an omlette, usually with seafood and scallions through it) after your hike.  However, it being lunch time when we arrived, we thought we'd tuck in before the hike.

Locals Taking Advantage of the Shady Mountain Stream

The hike itself is about 9km, passing two temples and a waterfall, and reaching two peaks.  The first temple you pass, is Donghak-sa, which is the most famous one in the national park, and as far as I'm aware it's just for nuns.  Then its on up past the waterfall, Eunseon Pokpo, which is pretty unimpressive at the moment given the lack of rain we've had this monsoon season.  From the waterfall, the trail starts getting noticeably steeper, and remains so, until you come to Gwaneumbong Peak (816m).

Donghak-sa Temple
Simple Simon on the Way Up!

The Top!

We didn't delay too long at the top, being out in the sunshine wasn't ideal so we carried on across the ridge, until we got to Sambulbong (775m).  We had a brief sos there before starting the just-as-steep decent, passing Nammaetap, another temple, on the way down.

The View from the Top.
You can just about make out the concrete jungle that is Deajeon in the background

Me Acting the Monkey Along the Ridge!

Nammaetap Temple

I have to say I was pretty shattered when we got to the bottom, and needed a bit of a break before getting on my bike for the cycle home.  But then, once I was actually on it, it was grand, all those kilometers around Jeju have paid off after all! In fact, we both enjoyed it so much, we did it all over again yesterday!  This time though, we set off nice and early and were back down to enjoy Pajeon and Dongdongju (a cousin of Magkeolli) in the early afternoon.  Much better doing it this way around!

Local Mayhem in the Stream again this Weekend!

A Much Deserved Feast of Pajeon, Dongdongju and lots of Banchan (sidedishes)

Friday, 10 August 2012

Around Jeju with a Bike

When our alarm went off at 7 on Monday morning, it signaled the start of a week of early morning wake up calls, but I didn't know that then, and I happily got out bed to get to the port in time for our 9am ferry to Jeju-do.  Our ferry tickets had a room number on them.  Surely a €20 ticket doesn't entitle you to a room, does it?  It did, just not a private room.  All passengers are allocated a room.  One half of both decks was divided up into square rooms about 5mx5m.  There was nothing in these rooms, you just kick your shoes off at the entrance, and claim your space. Much better than the rush for the 'good seats' on an Irish Ferries crossing to Holyhead!  There was a real holiday vibe to the ferry, everyone cracking into cans of cass and bottles of soju, and it only half nine in the morning.  The Koreans really are a pack of loopers!

Our Itinery
About to cycle off the back of the ferry with all the cars, having just arrived on Jeju-do.

When we got to Jeju-si, we didn't walk off with the rest of the foot passengers, oh no...we got to cycle off the back of the ferry with all the cars, brilliant!  We pulled in around the corner from the port to check our tyres and lather ourselves in sun-cream before heading off on our clockwise circumvention of Korea's much talked about 'Hawaii of Asia'.

The heat that first day, Monday, was stifling.  The ferry had docked at 1:30 so granted it was the hottest part of the day to be moving about in, but it was that or stay in the port town for the night and we were both pretty keen to get on the road.

We had decided to switch off our phones altogether for the duration of the holiday.  No email, no texts, no facebook, no googling, nothing except the necessary GPS!  It was lovely to feel so free and uncontactable for a change.

The first 10 kilometers that day was on a main road but we soon found the coast road, thank you google maps, and thats when it all really began. After a fair few hours in the saddle we came to a beach called Woljeong Beach.  A bar out the front of what seemed like a hippie commune (is that even possible in Korea?) lured us in.  After a couple of ice cold beers it was fairly clear we were going nowhere, and there we stayed.

Woljeong Beach

A Hippie Commune, Korean Style!

Day 2 and we were on the road by 7:30 to try and avoid the heat.  The first hour or so took us through some pretty Irish looking landscapes.  We were heading for Ilchulbong, an extinct volcano, right out on the far eastern coast, from which the views were meant to be spectactular.   A little local shop provided us with all the necessities...water, Pocari Sweat ( an isotonic drink with a great name!), stronger suncream, nuts, oranges...and some old chap, after hearing we were Irish, did a Robbie Keane impression for us, what more could you want! 

Irish Style Landscapes

The shop where we stocked up before climbing the volcano, and got free Jeju Mandarins for our troubles!
The crater peaking out over the cloud in the distance
The view from the top of Ilchulbong

The view from the volcano was every bit as good as expected, once I'd wiped the sweat out of my eyes and could actually see it!  However, in true Korean style, the attraction has been fully expolited.  There must have been over a dozen coaches and god knows how many cars in the car park.  In front of the ticket office was a Dunkin' Donuts, an Angel-in-Us (one of the many coffee shop chains abundant in Korea), a 7-11, and 4 or 5 other shops selling general tourist tat!  Still though, I shouldn't complain, we took full advantage of Dunkin' Donuts and their Arctic air conditioning when we got back down!

Do I really have to get back on my bike??!

Back onto the bikes once more, with the aim of getting to a beach about 6km (Sinyang Beach) away and resting there, in the shade, until the day started to cool down somewhat.  The beach was not the nicest, and the thought of spending 4 or 5 hours on it did't really appeal...so on we went.  But the coastline changed from sandy to rocky as we cycled on and on through the mid day heat, again.  At about 3 o clock, I couldn't go any further.  I needed food and rest and shade.  We found a family mart (a convenience store a lot like our Spar's, an 'all you need, when you need it' type of shop!), downed nearly 2litres of Pocari Sweat each and devoured a bunch of bananas.  I knew we couldnt stay there though, there was nothing there, so after consulting Google's satellite image of the area, we got back on our bikes and slowly cycled another 10k to a beach town called Pyoseon.  It was gorgoeous.  And it was only half four, but we were most definitely done cycling for the day.

Cycling through the mid day heat, for the second day running, might not have been our brightest move but we did get to see a sinking tanker!  It'd run aground just off the coast, at a lighthouse ironically.  A definite highlight of the day!

Mayday Mayday!!

When the alarm went off the next morning at a bright and early 6am, I was not feeling too spritely but after a quick breakfast of banana, yogurt and Pocari I was ready to go again.  If nothing else, the smell of our cycling kit was enough to knock the sleep right out of us! Our aim for the morning was to get to Seogwipo, the second city of the island, on the south coast, almost exactly half way around Jeju.  We passed a sign that said it was 31km and we were ticking along at a great pace so we thought we'd be there about half ten, but then we passed a signpost that siad we had 41km to go.  It was getting hotter and I was getting tired but we continued on, sticking to the coast road as much as we could.  Arguably too much though because at one stage we ended up in a forest.  We went through it for a while, but after passing some of the biggest spider webs I've ever seen, I couldn't hack it anymore, and we turned around.  It was after 12 when we did get to Seogwipo, exhausted.

We collapsed on a bench, in the shade, outside a toilet block, in the carpark of  a Korean style commercialised waterfall!  I fell asleep within minutes.  Then we went to Dunkin Donuts, their air conditioning really is second to none, before hitting up some local restaurant for a much need fill of real food in the form of a bimimbap (rice with vegetables and an egg).  It was our first proper meal since Saturday and it was amazing!  I stupidly thought that if we paid into the waterfall, we'd find a patch of shady grass where we could lie down and rest until it was time to get going again.  But of course, as is the way here, the way to the waterfall was paved and there was no detouring from it, no bit of grass, so back to a coffee shop with us for more a/c!

We camped that night, not because we wanted to, but because after a particularly hilly afternoon cycle we arrived to a beach called Jungmum, where the only accomodation was in the form of a big swanky looking hotel.  In with the pair of us to the sea for a swim straight away and my god, was it nice.  I don't know how well I slept that night 'cause the next day I was feeling pretty ropey. It was probably a combination of exhaustion and slight dehydration, combined with the heat. Whatever it was, it had me knocked for six, and we spent most of the afternoon lying down in a Buddist Temple!

The Campsite at Dawn
Jungmum Beach
Passed Out in the Temple

Friday Morning we got to a beach called Hyeopjae, a gorgeous white sandy beach with crystal clear waters.  We also found a gazebo type thing on the grass just off the back of the beach where I promptly fell asleep.  Until that was, some chap with a bit of clout, told us it was 'premium place' and that if we wanted to stay there we'd have to pay him 50,000won (€35) so we left, totally disgruntled!  However, just around the corner was an equally nice beach, where we sought the comfort of yet another air conditioned cafe.  At 6, once it had started to noticeable cool down, we saddled up again to get to Gwakji Beach, about 10k further around the coast.  This was to be our last stop before getting the ferry back to the mainland, and what a stop it was too!

The 'Premium Place' Grass at Hyeopjae Beach

A Very Welcome Beach Bar on Gwakji Beach

Sunset at Gwakji Beach

The beach was long, with pure white sand, and crystal clear water but nowhere near as crowded as the beach we'd just left behind.  There was such a holiday buzz to the place.  There was even a beach bar, the likes of which you'd expect to find in Thailand (and wouldn't dare to dream of finding in Korea!), and it served real drinks, none of this cass beer and soju rubbish!!  Originally we'd thought we'd stay in Jeju-si, the capital city, the night before our ferry but once we got to Gwakji we weren't going anywhere.  An early morning dash of the last 30k to the ferry it would have to be!  Plus that means we were about to have a day with absolutely no cycling, the excitement of it was almost too much!!  A whole day to read, nap, swim, eat, play....holidays are the business!

We erred on the side of caution when planning how long we'd need to get to the ferry.  We were on our bikes by 7am and at the ferry for 9.  It wasn't sailing til 12.  Tonnes of time for a bibimbap and a dose of olypmics!

Boarding the Ferry to Wan-do

From Wan-do, the ferry port on the mainland, we got a bus to Boseong to check out the Green Tea Plantations we'd heard so much about.  On the cycle up to the fields though Nick's bike broke. The spiky thing at the back that the chain runs over decided to implode on itself, sending little ball bearings scattering all over the place!  We walked the rest of the way there and I towed him most of the way back to the motel afterwards.  The plantations were pretty impressive, if somewhat ruined by the big museum plonked in the middle of them, but it is Korea after all, and what else would you expect?  Anyway, green fields are nice to look at but after you've taken the mandatory photo or two there's not much else to do so we went back to the motel and watched the olympics for the rest of the day.

The Green Tea Plantations of Boseong

And that was that.  The next day we got a bus back to Daejeon and our holidays were over!  As I said in my previous post, I've never cycled any kind of distances like that before, but I have to say it was really great, once I got over the initial saddle soreness!  I can only imagine it might not be too long 'til we go on another cycle tour somewhere, but this time with padded shorts! 

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Vacation Preparation

Cycling around Jeju-do, an island off the south coast of South Korea, and Korea's largest island, seemed like a great idea when there were weeks to go to vacation time.  Yes, I said vacation! Forget your holidays in Korea, its all about vacation.  'Vacation' is understood, 'holidays' provokes a blank looking stare.  Such is life in this desperately American-centric, lunatic asylum of a country.

Anyway last Friday week was the start of our vacation/ holiday.  We got 12days.  An almost unheard number of days off in this work obsessed place.  Especially for a couple of hagwon workers.  2 days is not unusual, so we took our 12 days quite happily, and we skarpered.  

That Friday night was the birthday party of one of our co-workers.  It consisted of a dinner of pizza and fried chicken, paid for by the birthday girl as is tradition here.  We then moved to one of the many bars that are seperated into private rooms (heaven forbid you might talk to someone you don't know) where, upon the suggestion of beer by me, the menu came out because you can't possible have a drink if you don't eat, never mind the fact that we'd all just had dinner together ten minutes ago!  A chicken salad was ordered, as was a giant bowl of fruit salad drowned in a combination of milk, cider and ice cubes.  Cider is lemonade here, not cider.  The side dishes, that accompany every meal here in Korea, were not the usual kimchi and radish, but instead were 3 cherry tomatoes (to share?), a spoon full of sweetcorn and a bowl of puffed rice snacks, similar in appearance to hoola hoops!  A birthday cake was then produced.  We all sang happy birthday and the girl of the moment cut the cake up into nice neat sections, before chopsticks were handed around, and everyone attacked the cake.  The sections were redundant, completely.  All in all, a pretty normal Korean Friday night!

Chicken Salad and a somewhat dubious looking Fruit Salad, with the Birthday Girl to boot!

Appetizing Side Dishes!

Saturday was spent getting our bikes in order for this cycle, the extent of which I was trying not to think about, never having cycled much further than 15kms in one go before.  Actually, Nick sorted the bikes out, checked the tyres, attached new peddals, attached bottle holders and who knows what else.  I stuffed a few bits of first aid into a washbag, threw a couple of t-shirts into my rucksack, along with my ground mat, my book, bike lights and a lock, a touch, my camera charger, my phone charger, sun-cream and some mossie spray. 

We didn't actually leave 'til Sunday, we'd booked a ferry from Mokpo to Jeju-Si at 9am on Monday morning, so that we could relax at home on Saturday and not have to set an alarm on the very first day of our holidays.  When we woke on Sunday, a little bit worse for wear it must be said, it was raining...exactly what we didn't want on the first leg of the cycle.  It is monsoon season so it wasn't a total surprise, just not a very welcome one.  Anyway due to us being some what tri na ceile as I've mentioned, it took us a bit longer than it should have to get out the door and by that stage the rain had stopped.  Silver lining.  The combination of the humidity, the wet roads, the hastily, over packed rucksack and the hangover made for a pretty awful cycle to the bus stop but get there we did and got on a bus, bikes and all, with an uncharacteristic lack of hassle.  The vacation had well and truly started at this stage!

Tortoise Stef, leaving the apartment the first morning, wondering if this really was such a good idea after all!

We arrived to Mokpo about 4 pm that day.  Which way to the port? Good question.  A question we posed to a group of waygooks (the Korean term used to describe foreigners) who walked passed and, as it turned out, lived in Mokpo.  'Oh its quite a ways away' was the helpful response.  We're on our bikes, we clearly intend to cycle it, the distance is irrelevant, just point us in the right bloody direction would you?!!  Despite the waygooks mad answer, we did get there.  We found a nice cheap motel beside the port, went in search of dinner and got a much needed early night. There were many, many more kilometers ahead of us!